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review 2016-09-12 04:40
Sonnet XXIX by Garcilaso de la Vega

Born in Toledo in 1501, de la Vega was one of the first Spanish poets to introduce Italian verse forms and techniques to Spain.  Mastering five languages as well as having a good aptitude for music, de la Vega eventually joined the Spanish military and died at 35 years old from a wound sustained in battle in Nice, France.  His poetry has been fortunate to be consistently popular during his life and up until present times.

In Sonnet XXIX, de la Vega explores the Greek myth of Hero (Ὴρὠ) and Leander (Λὲανδρος).  Each night Leander swam the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) to be with his lovely Hero, who lived in a tower in Sestos by the sea.  She would hang a lamp for him in her high tower to guide his path, however, on a particularly stormy night, the waves buffeted Leander, the wind blew out Hero's lamp, and brave Leander tragically drowned in the raging waters.  Bereft, Hero threw herself from her tower into the pitiless sea, which joined them in death, as it had kept them apart in life.


Hero and Leander (1828)
William Etty
source Wikimedia Commons


Sonnet XXIX
   Garcilaso de la Vega
    Brave Leander, dauntless, crossing the sea,
on fire with the lazing flames of love,
when winds blew strong and waters rose and swirled
with frenzied rage and driving, crashing swells.
    Vanquished by struggle, nearly overcome,
he could no longer battle with the waves,
and dying because of the love he’d lose
and not because his own life ebbed away,
    he raised his weary voice and faintly called,
speaking his final words to roiling waves,
but they ne’er heard his voice, his lover’s plea:
    “Waves, I know I cannot escape death,
but let me swim across; when I return
you can vent your wrathful surge upon my life.”
translation: Edith Grossman
Hero and Leander (1621/22)
Domenico Fetti
source Wikimedia Commons
Original Spanish: 
    Pasando el mar Leandro el animoso,
en amoroso fuego todo ardiendo
esforzó el viento, y fuése embraveciendo
el agua con un impetus furioso.
    Vencido del trabajo presuroso,
contrastar a las ondas no pudiendo,
y más del bien que allí perdía muriendo
que de su propia visa congojoso
    como pudo esforzó su voz cansada
y a las ondas habló desta manera,
mas nunca fuéla voz dellas oída:
    --- Ondas, pues no se escusa que yo muera,
dejadme allá llegar, es y a la tornada
vuestro furor esecutá en mi vida. ----






Hero finding Leander (c. 1932)
Ferdinand Keller
source Wikimedia Commons

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review 2016-07-03 07:26
Ode VIII Quiet Night by Fray Luis de León

Fray Luis de León was a poet, an Augustinian friar, an academic and a theologian who lived during the Spanish Golden age.  This poem was one of 23 original poems composed by him during his lifetime; he also translated the Book of Job and the Song of Songs into Spanish from the Latin Vulgate, a forbidden act which landed him in prison.

Sadly the text of this poem is too long to include and I can't find any online sources but it is included in the book The Golden Age ~ Poems of the Spanish Renaissance. Here is an except:


Source Wikipedia

When I contemplate the heavens
embellished and adorned with countless lights,
then look down at the earth
enveloped in dark night
and buried deep in oblivion and sleep,
     the love and sorrow I feel
awaken in my breast an ardent longing;
my eyes, become like fountains,
let flow abundant streams,
and at last, in woeful tones, my voice does call:
     "Oh, home of so much grandeur,
temple of light, of clarity, of beauty:
my soul was born for your heights,
yet what immense misfortune
keeps it in this vile prison, in the dark?
     "What mortal misperception
moves my senses so far away from truth
that, leaving your sacred good,
forgetting they wander, lost,
following vain shadows, illusions of good?
      "Man is given over
wholly to sleep, not caring for his fate,
while heaven, with silent steps,
keeps turning round, keeps turning,
stealing from him the hours of his life.
      "Oh moral men, awake!
Open your eyes and see the harm you do.
Can your immortal souls, 
created for such great good,
survive on shadows and on mere deceit?

de Leon begins with the poet envisaging heaven from his place on earth, yet he quickly reverses the observation by viewing earth from the vantage point of heaven. From the first viewpoint, heaven looks grand and beautiful but when his perspective is reversed, the earth is seen as a place of devastation and turmoil, as man forgets the purpose of his creation and allows precious time to be stolen from him.  The poet uses an apostrophe to awaken his fellow man the plight of his dying soul and encourages his amelioration.  There is a wonderful weaving of the celestial planets into heaven's fabric, personifying their glory and importance, while communicating divine beauty.

Such a lovely poem and as a bonus, an opportunity to practice my Spanish!



© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

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